Page last updated at 08:01 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Japan cost cuts hit 100 year olds

By Roland Buerk
BBC News, Tokyo

Elderly exercise with wooden dumbbells at a Tokyo temple on Respect-for-the-Aged day, 15 Sep 08
Special events, exercises and gifts mark Respect for the Aged Day

So many Japanese people are living longer that the government is reducing the size of silver cups presented to those who turn 100 years old.

More than 20,000 people are expected to reach their 100th birthday this year.

The Japanese have one of the longest life expectancies of any nation, but there are concerns about the burden on society of paying for care of the aged.

UN projections suggest there will be about one million Japanese over the age of 100 by 2050.

Healthy diets

In a vivid demonstration of the strain on budgets, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has decided to reduce the size of the congratulatory sake, or rice wine, cup given to centenarians.

Made of silver and inscribed with the Chinese kanji character for happiness they are distributed on 15 September - Respect for the Aged Day - to all those who turned 100 in the previous year.

But from now on they will be 9cm (3.5in) in diameter rather than 10.5cm (just over 4in).

In 1963, the first year the silver cups were given out, just 153 Japanese celebrated their 100th birthdays.

Last year there were 19,768 new centenarians and the numbers are rising.

The Japanese are so long-lived because of healthy diets, strong communities and relatively easy access to medical care.

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